By Brad Fauber
FRONT ROYAL -- Warren County and Skyline have each won their respective districts, but perhaps the biggest game for both teams is yet to come.
The Wildcats and the Hawks face off tonight at Warren County for the regular-season finale for both schools, and with both teams coming in sporting 8-1 records, the 2012 edition of the heated cross-town rivalry may be the most anticipated meeting yet.
"I think it's tremendous for the town, for Front Royal," said Skyline coach Heath Gilbert. "I really hope that the community comes out and gives these kids an atmosphere deserving of two 8-1, playoff-bound teams."
Both teams will be working off a shortened week of preparation after Hurricane Sandy prevented either side from practicing on Monday.
The short week forced both coaching staffs to alter their typical practice week, but Warren County coach Tony Tallent said he doesn't expect the missed day to have too much of an impact on his team's level of preparation.
"It's going to be one of those NFL short weeks, where you played on Sunday and you've got to play again on Thursday, but I think every team faces the same challenges," Tallent said. "I think game one or two, it would have a huge impact. Now we do what we do. The kids have done a really nice job of prepping themselves."
Warren County is coming off a heartbreaking 28-21 loss in double overtime against Evergreen foe Kettle Run, which has also handed Skyline its only loss of the season. The loss ended the Wildcats' bid for a perfect season, as well as a chance for the outright district title.
Warren County is still guaranteed a share of the district crown, and the Wildcats are ready to put last week's game behind them and shift their focus to Skyline.
The key for both teams tonight will be to not be overcome by the big game hype. Warren County senior Tyler Post said the Wildcats were guilty of such last week.
"As a team, we can't play too hyped up during the beginning of the game," said Post. "We kind of let that get the best of us last week, letting the big game determine how we were going to come out and play. That definitely prepared us for this week."
Skyline is fresh off winning its first outright Northwestern District championship after beating Sherando 28-21 on the road last Friday.
With that feat now checked off their list, the Hawks can turn their attention to ending their two-game slide against the Wildcats.
Skyline's last two losses to Warren County have come by a combined four points, including a 13-12 loss last year at home. Skyline's seniors want nothing more than to end their regular season with a win.
"We definitely look at it for motivation. They got us the last two years, so we definitely want to get this one," said Hawks senior Nick Helmick. "This is our last go around against them, so this is a big one for us."
For that to happen, Skyline must be able to move the football against a stiff Wildcats defense, and do it without senior Kylmen Breeden, who will be out with what Gilbert called a "lower body injury" that he suffered on the fourth play of last week's game. Breeden has accounted for 782 yards of total offense and 10 touchdowns this season.
The Hawks had success without Breeden against a solid defense last week, racking up 377 yards on the ground. Slowing Skyline's multiple-I attack will be a priority for a Wildcat defense that surrendered nearly 300 yards rushing to Kettle Run.
"Just lining up against so many offenses is a challenge in itself, then having to prepare for all of the different plays they can run out of all those things, it's definitely a mess," said Post. "It's to their advantage but we're going to do what we can, line up to be in the best position we can to stop their big plays and their quick offense."
For the Hawks on defense, the top priority will be trying to contain Post, who is a threat both running and throwing the football from the quarterback position. Post has thrown for 1,061 yards and 13 touchdowns this season, and has run for 562 yards and five scores.
"Their offense goes around Post," said Hawks senior Dayvon Haight. "He's a very good runner, and he can throw the ball very well to Matt [Nicholson] and Chris Larsen, who are very fast. Our secondary has to step up this week."
The pressure is off for both teams in the fact that the Hawks and Wildcats have already clinched playoff spots, but tonight's game could have an impact on the final seedings.
A win for Skyline could jump them to the top of the region, and a win for Warren County could boost them as high as the second spot.
"There's going to be a game played Friday, and nobody's going to hang up their cleats after that game," said Tallent. "It's not going to be like last year where if we won, certain things happened as far as our seedings. Obviously the seedings will still get jostled a little bit, but it will be for both teams.
"It's going to be a good football game because it's a rivalry game, but both teams have bigger fish to fry."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org